Rugged Mobile devices – a market in transition


Ruggedized mobile devices have been on the market for a few years now as an answer to bringing mobile computing to difficult environments like live construction sites, law enforcement, or fieldwork. However, even with a variety of situations where rugged devices might be ideal, the market for these products contracted slightly in 2012, according to new research from VDC. VDC provides analysis of the mobile market.

“Our research shows that the overall rugged mobile computing market including rugged tablets, forklifts, notebooks and handhelds contracted slightly in 2012. We see the rugged mobile market – best evidenced by developments in the handheld segment – in a state of transition,” said David Krebs, vice president of enterprise mobility, VDC.

According to a survey of the market, the only area where rugged devices are continuing to grow is in laptops. The market for these devices showed no contraction in 2012, and researchers expect that the products will continue to sell into 2013.

Rugged handheld computers, however, are seeing increased pressure from smartphones and tablets as consumer-grade solutions are competing with rugged handhelds for certain applications. While Windows is the dominant OS for these devices, the transition from Windows Embedded 6.5 Handheld to Windows Embedded 8 Handheld is the cause for some confusion in the market and opening up near term opportunities for alternate platforms.

As CivSource recently reported, some white label device makers like Elektrobit, are looking into the Android platform for these products given their applicability across mobile and tablet devices. Other prominent exits from the space in 2012, like GD-Itronix have also opened up the space for compelling newcomers while simultaneously adding a bit to the recent contraction in the market overall.

Consolidation continues to be a theme – especially in the more mature rugged handheld market. Recent transactions include Motorola Solution’s acquisition of PSION, Honeywell’s acquisition of LXE and Honeywell’s pending acquisition of Intermec.

Overall, VDC sees only modest gains in the market in 2013, provided the industry can craft a compelling value proposition. “While the need for rugged devices to support many business and mission critical processes remains strong, we feel there is a clear need for rugged vendors to reinstate their value proposition in the context of increased pressure from consumer devices with more modern OS platforms and addressing the perceived innovation gap. Reinforcing key benefits and requirements around sustainable development, lifecycle management and platform flexibility will be critical moving forward,” Krebs said.